The veterans group for combat wounded troops whose mission is to preserve the integrity of the Purple Heart has come out against giving the award to troops suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.
"I don’t think people should get the Purple Heart for almost getting wounded," said Joe Palagyi, of the Military Order of the Purple Heart.
PTSD does not merit the Purple Heart, according to an Army regulation that lays out the criteria for the award.
Recently, a military psychologist at Fort Bliss, Texas, told reporters during a roundtable that making troops with PTSD eligible for the Purple Heart could help de-stigmatize the disorder.
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"These guys have paid at least a high -- as high a price, some of them -- as anybody with a traumatic brain injury, as anybody with shrapnel wound, and what it does is it says this is the wound that isn’t worthy, and I say it is," said John E. Fortunato.
When asked about Fortunato’s suggestion later, Defense Secretary Robert Gates called it an "interesting idea," adding the matter is "clearly something that needs to be looked into."
But Palagyi, who was awarded the Purple Heart for service in Vietnam, said PTSD does not meet the standards for the award, the forerunner of which was established by Gen. George Washington.
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"The Purple Heart was set up for combat wounds, for those who have shed blood, and I believe that although PTSD is a physical disease and is an injury ... [it] does not qualify for the merit of Purple Heart based on that," he said Tuesday.
Injuries that merit the Purple Heart must happen in a combat theater and must be a direct result of enemy action, said Jack Leonard, also of the Military Order of the Purple Heart.
The group’s concern about PTSD is that it can be caused by other factors, not necessarily the enemy.
"Did it occur in boot camp? Did it occur because of the rough air flight into theater? Or did it occur because an individual saw the results of the Taliban massacre of a village? I can’t answer that," said Leonard, who was awarded the Purple Heart after being wounded in Vietnam.
Stars and Stripes called the medical center where Fortunato works for a response, but a spokesman there referred questions to Army Human Resources Command, adding that Fortunato should not have commented on the Purple Heart in the first place because the issue is "out of our medical lane."
Leonard said he does not mean to downplay war’s psychological injuries, recounting how he is sure how his father suffered from PTSD after fighting in World War II with the Marines.
"Like a flash in a pan, he would reach out and I mean full-force smack with a balled fist, without any indication that it was going to happen, and you’d go, ‘What the hell -- what the hell just happened?’ as you picked yourself off the floor," Leonard said.
He said his father, who also served in the Korean War and was close to suicide at the end of his life, was never awarded the Purple Heart.
Asked if his father should have been given the award, Leonard said no.
"There’s no physical manifestation of -- that he ever shed blood," Leonard said.